I’m back! It’s hard to believe two weeks ago I was in Monte Carlo celebrating my birthday with family and friends.
Why Monte Carlo? To be honest, I have no clue. It may stem from a desire to complete a decade birthday “Ace of Spade” theme (long story); or most likely the fascination came from watching the Grace Kelly: The American Princess documentary many, many years ago. Who doesn’t love a real-life princess story? A regular (meaning: beautiful, talented, and successful) young woman meets a handsome prince, falls in love, and decides to retire from regularity and become a princess. It’s a fairy tale come true, and probably one of the reasons I am a wedding planner today.
The Principality of Monaco is a small independent state located on France’s Mediterranean coastline. Its luxury surrounds you as you walk down the street; the cars, the yachts, the fashion. I instantly thought of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, James Bond in Never Say Never and GoldenEye, and Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix race as images once seen on a screen were right before my eyes. However, beyond its materialistic attractions, there is much more to appreciate about Monaco. The architecture is breath taking, and the history is intriguing.
We arrived in Monaco Saturday afternoon by way of Nice Côte d'Azur International Airport. (We = several family members and friends.) Since I wanted to streamline the cost of meals, lodging and incidentals, I chose to rent a house instead of book hotel rooms. Renting the house off-season worked well.
Our host, Anthony, was phenomenal. He took me to a little town in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin where I found the best butcher shop and boulangerie-pâtisserie. From that day on, croissants, pain aux chocolate, and tartes des pommes became a regular staple in the house. Oh, and olive oil. I know. Odd, right? Well at the butcher shop that first afternoon, I picked up a few roasted chickens for my meat-eating travelers (I don’t eat meat, but they would NOT have been happy with me if I’d only come back with pastries.). While I practiced my français with the butcher shop owner, Anthony said the olive oil was good and that we should try it. Understatement of the year! We ate everything with the olive oil, cooked with it, dipped in baguettes. If it was edible, we put olive oil on it. It was so good that my cousin and I each came home with two bottles.
Our first outing was to Rocher de Monaco (the Rock of Monaco) overlooking the Mediterranean and le port Hercule de Monaco (Port of Hercule). When you get to the top of this rock, the view is breathtaking. (If you like working out, this is a great leg day exercise. Whew!). We strolled through Saint Martin Gardens, saw the Palais Princier de Monaco during the changing of the guards and visited the Musée océanographique (Oceanographic Museum of Monaco), the museum where Jacques Cousteau was once a director. It did not disappoint. They had seahorses! And Nemo (clownfish), Dory (blue tang), and baby sharks. Guess who felt brave and adventurous and touched the baby sharks! I felt like a kid visiting her first aquarium. My favorite part was visiting the Cathedral, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-Immaculée (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), aka Saint Nicholas Cathedral, aka Monaco Cathedral ,where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainer III got married (Umm! Fairytale. Princess marries her prince. Wedding planner.) Words are inadequate to describe what I felt. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
But wait. There’s more! The crew and I didn’t just experience Monaco. We made our way over to Milan. Yes! Milan in Italy! Why not?? It was only three hours away (the distance from New York to Maryland). We arrived in time for brunch. The cappuccino, the espresso, the food… Delicious! Once our bellies were full, we visited the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square). (Can you tell I have a thing for churches/places of worship?) The Duomo (cathedral) is gigantic. It makes St. Patrick’s Cathedral look like a cute little chapel on the hill. Once I got my cathedral fix, we spent the rest of the day touring the museums and the shops. Fantastico!
The Big Day, The Big Lesson
March 16th finally arrived - my birthday - a day which should be a national holiday! (I’m working on it.)
Indulge me for a sec. For about 13 years, I celebrated my birthday solo. The day usually went like this: Woke up, went to church then spent the day at the spa, then went to the movies and had lunch…all by myself. This was my way of reconnecting with who was and who I am. I believe each year brings new changes, some so small you don't realize it; others so large they knock you down and force you to reassess and grow. This solo birthday thing made my friends and family not too happy with me. One year in my 20s, they planned a surprise lunch. When I arrived and realized what was happening, I got in my car and drove off. Yes, drove off! I was petrified of celebrating my birthday with others. (Let’s just say something unpleasant happened years ago, starting on my birthday; and it blew up into something ugly. I always associated that with the celebration of my birthday. So, my policy was NO PEOPLE ALLOWED. A solo celebration allowed me to be in total control of my happiness.) But at age 30, I promised myself I would not allow another birthday to go by without those I love around me. I couldn’t let that one incident sentence me to a lifetime of spa/movie birthdays… alone.
This birthday was the 10-year anniversary of celebrating with those near and dear. So how did it go? Let’s just say the morning did not go as planned and the day was looking like a repeat of the catastrophe that happened many years ago. The difference this time was me. I didn’t allow this to push me back into a cocoon. Instead, I realized the lesson in it. And a special friend was kind of enough to remind me to learn to let shit go! Once those words sank in, I realized how profound that statement was. We can hold on to things; grudges, hurt, disappointments and loss. However, in the end, we suffer more. Allow yourself to purge and cleanse. Let go, forgive, and move on. This may be the best lesson learned in my first few hours into my 40s.
The rest of week was wonderful: Dinner at Buddha Bar, Blackjack at Monte Carlo Casino, Day trip to Nice, more croissants, cheese, baguettes and olive oil. We visited The Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, a local dealership, the Hercule Port and spent a day in Nice and toured Chateau de Cremat vineyard.
To my fellow travelers Ricardo, Nicole, Patrick and Eurika: Thank you for indulging me and traveling to celebrate with me. Thank you for your love, support and friendship. To those who couldn’t make it, thank you for the messages and well wishes. To all who wished me a happy birthday, I appreciate the time you took to do so. Thank you.
My Monte Carlo Adventure was wonderful - all of it. Even when things went wrong, it became a growing moment and I acknowledged the lesson in that moment. I acknowledge my personal growth, and I welcome my 40th year of life with open arms.
Life has a way of bringing us full circle. While in Nice I stumbled upon the Tiffany and Company store, I just had to go in and visit. For 13 years I was part of the very team responsible for procuring, designing, building and maintaining the little blue box around the world. While inside of the store, the phrase, “Audentes Fortuna Iuvat,” came to mind. Those were the words a former coworker and friend wrote on a Post-it® note after I’d announced my resignation. All I could do was smile.
Photo credit to Ricardo C. Sandy and Patrick C. Tovar. Thank you for taking such beautiful images and indulging my odd photo requests. I really liked that door handle!
All images © C'est Mon Plaisir Events, LLC